Riverside rallies late, slips past Capital
For six innings, Capital was able to tiptoe around its own mistakes and put itself in position to ring up a big win on the road.
But in the seventh, the rug got pulled out from under what would’ve been quite the happy dance for the Cougars.
Trevor Smith scored Brandon Hancock on a suicide squeeze and Chaz Davis hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to center two hitters later as host Riverside capped a 3-2 comeback win in the first game of the Class AAA Region 3 Section 4 tournament Wednesday.
The Warriors (15-10) will travel to play at Ripley at 6:30 tonight while Capital will face elimination when it hosts the Vikings on Thursday.
Prior to the seventh, Capital had committed five errors and had left seven men on base but was still clinging to a one-run lead.
But after closer Anthony Gavin hit Hancock to lead off the inning and overthrew second base trying to force out Hancock on Derik Chestnut’s ensuing sacrifice bunt attempt, Capital just couldn’t get out of its own way one last time.
“Those are the games we start to expect to win,” Riverside coach Pat Vogelsang said. “All year long we’ve been stressing mental toughness and how we react to adversity and I think tonight showed a lot about how much we’ve grown and how well we’ve done in that sense. It’s a tribute to our kids — they’re tough kids, they’re getting there. We’re mentally tough now, we’ve grown up a lot and a lot of it is because of these seniors. They’re a real mature group and they’re the heart and soul of this team.”
One of those seniors, Cam Norris, has thrown several huge postseason games for the Warriors over the past handful of years and he did his part to keep his team in it on Wednesday.
Norris pitched all seven innings, giving up eight hits and no walks while striking out nine, including the last five he faced.
He was also faced with some major adversity in the sixth after he was called for a balk with runners on first and third, resulting in the go-ahead run crossing the plate for the Cougars to make the score 2-1.
“I was just rushing a little bit,” Norris said of the balk. “I settled down a little bit. It was a little bit of a mental thing but I got myself back together and threw the ball.
“I trust in every one of those guys in the dugout. Chaz Davis has had three walk-offs now, so I was really confident during his [final] at-bat.”
Norris took the loss in a regional final at Beckley last year as the Warriors fell one step short of making the state tournament.
He was emotional on that night and his coach said he has matured tremendously and is able to draw from those types of experiences when the team’s back is against the wall, a la Wednesday night.
“[That experience] does a lot,” Vogelsang said. “A lot of it is the offseason as well. He’s grown a lot over the offseason, [former] Coach [Trey] Barcus was absolutely phenomenal with him, and I wasn’t here last year but I know that right now he’s a very mentally strong kid and he’s a very physically gifted athlete. He’s fun to watch and it’s great to have him on our team.”
Capital starter Kaleb Kinder matched Norris nearly pitch for pitch over six innings until being pulled in favor of Gavin before the start of the seventh. Kinder struck out just three but carried a no-hitter into the fourth and yielded just five knocks and two walks.
It’s another in a long string of tough defeats for the Cougars (12-20), a point coach Robert Massey spoke to after Wednesday’s defeat.
“It’s tough,” Massey said. “These kids have been snake-bitten for two years. That’s our 16th walk-off loss in two years and 29 one-run losses. One time or another we’d like to get that copperhead out of our bed — maybe on Friday.”
Capital got on the board first in the second inning on an RBI single from Jordan Bray, delivering Austin Hupp, who had singled and moved up on a Riverside error.
The Warriors didn’t respond until the fifth as Chestnut smacked a one-out double and scored on an single by Smith.
Gavin went 2 for 3 with a double to lead Capital, as did Riverside’s Sam Stone.
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